Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: self-help

Blog Held Hostage: Third Update

1) I have set up a date for when I am traveling to Los Angeles, and moving my stuff from Sophia’s place.

2)  Sat across from an available woman, for at least an hour in real life, and flirted with her.

3) Decided in which city I’m going to live.

4) Made a decision on my next writing project.

5) Exercised for at least three days in a row.

Not Self-Esteem, But Arrogance

I’m the last person in the world to be giving anyone any self-help advice, and I don’t trust those who usually do in blog posts, but I’ve been feeling braver and confident in certain aspects of my life lately, which is surprising even me, and I think a large part of this is because I had one of those “a-ha!” moments recently that spur you on to change. I have no idea whether this paradigm shift in my head is real or delusional, but I thought I would share it with you and see if anyone can relate or add anything to it.

For the longest time, I have been operating under the assumption that I have low self-esteem. I’m not sure where it came from, probably my father, but it made sense to me. When I looked at those around me, I considered them “more important” than myself. If I was walking into my apartment building in Queens and saw someone carrying a few bundles, and he turned to me and asked, “Could you help me a second?” I would answer, “Sure.” That is being considerate.

But if I was struggling with packages, I would not ask some stranger, or even a neighbor, for help. While this seems like a minor reaction, the same attitude would exist if I was asking for a promotion from a boss or a dance from an attractive woman at a friend’s wedding. I don’t like “asking” others for anything because I am under the assumption that I am too weak to handle the rejection. Low self-esteem. I would be crushed. Others are more important than little ol’ me. This became a self-fulfilling prophecy. By constantly seeing myself as “smaller” than the next guy, my self-esteem weakened to the point where I didn’t want to bother a waiter to refill my coffee cup in a diner.

“I’m sure he is busy with other customers,” I might think. “He’ll get around to it eventually. I can be patient.”

I’ve thought about this self-esteem issue for a while, and I can never seem to get a handle on it. It slides through my fingers like sand. I understand my self-diagnosis intellectually, but I don’t feel it in my gut. After all, I don’t walk around seeing myself as a lesser person. Not at all. It’s not how I perceive myself, even when I don’t ask the neighbor for help or the boss for a promotion. If anything, at the moment of indecision, I probably see myself as BETTER than they are — more noble and considerate, as if niceness was a badge of honor.

And this was the a-ha moment. What is holding me back is not lack of self-esteem, seeing myself as smaller than others, but ARROGANCE, viewing myself as morally superior and kinder than the rest of humanity.

Why don’t I ask the guy to open the apartment door for me? Because I am acting under the assumption that this guy is, at heart, a self-absorbed twit who will say no. The boss is not going to give me the promotion because he is an incompetent businessman waiting to give the promotion to his nephew. The woman at the wedding won’t want to dance with me because she just wants a one-night stand with the drunken married guy at the next table.

What a horrible way to view other people!

Now, before you dispute my theory, let me say that I understand that this is about issues of self-esteem. I’m just saying that constantly thinking of myself as having low self esteem is counter-productive. What if I viewed it the other way, where I AM THE ASSHOLE?

In this new scenario, the neighbor, the waiter, the boss, and the woman at the wedding are all lovely, wonderful people. They want to help me, give me a promotion, and dance with me. Why wouldn’t they? They are nice people. Why assume that these individuals are lesser than I am, wanting to reject me for their evil pleasure? Why do I see myself as super nice and others as complete idiots? I’m the IDIOT.

Why wouldn’t the guy hold the door for me? Why wouldn’t the woman dance with me? And they wouldn’t be doing it FOR ME. They would be doing it for themselves. I know I get a kick when I hold the door open for someone. Why not give someone else the opportunity to feel good?

Because I’ve been a arrogant jerk more interesting in feeling morally superior than dealing with real people. I WANT you to say no, so then I can say to myself, “I wouldn’t say no. Look how much better I am than those people!”

That’s been the problem all along.

Please hold the door for me as you leave. Thank you.

The Three Rungs of the Step Ladder

I’ve noticed quite a few of those I follow on Twitter talking about this new book by Chris Guillebeau titled “The Art of Non-Conformity.”  He is an accomplished writer who runs a very popular website dealing with personal development and life planning.

The Art of Non-Conformity (AONC) project chronicles my writing on how to change the world by achieving significant, personal goals while helping others at the same time. In the battle against conventional beliefs, we focus on three areas: Life, Work, and Travel.

The key theme that links each of these topics is nonconformity. I define non-conformity as “a lack of orthodoxy in thoughts or beliefs” or “the refusal to accept established customs, attitudes, or ideas.”

I was curious, so I checked out his blog.

Note: I have not read his book.  I only read a few of his blog posts. But something was already stirring in my head as I read my very first blog post of his, so I thought I would write about it.  It has little bearing on the actual content of this writer’s work.  If you go on Amazon, the book gets fantastic reviews.  I do intent to check it out because so many of my friends are excited by it.

What started my brain cells moving was this post, “The Decision to Be Remarkable,” specifically the opening paragraphs —

re•mark•able [adjective]: worthy of being noticed, especially as being uncommon or extraordinary

***

If you want to break out of the mold of average, the first thing you need to do is to make a decision to be radically different. Most remarkable people are people of action, and for a good reason: if you don’t take decisive action, nothing will ever change.

But this first step is entirely mental. It calls for a clear decision to rise above the culture of mediocrity. And then, of course, it calls for action.

Right off the bat, I was getting an insight into the mind of the writer.  He was presenting a world of two levels:  average and remarkable.  Imagine a step ladder with two rungs.  On the bottom is the average, stuck in a “culture of mediocrity.”  One step above this is the second rung — those who broke free and are now “radically different.”  These are the ones unchained from the shackles of orthodoxy.

This is not a new approach to selling an idea.  Throughout history, philosophers from Plato to Nietzsche have presented a hierarchical world of blind idiots stuck in the mud and visionaries who broke free after buying some sort of book.   I’ve always wondered why nobody gets insulted from this thesis.  In some ways, the writer/thinker is calling YOU — the potential buyer of the book — a boring, average, loser, schmuck, a monkey stuck in a suburban home with 2 kids and a dog, who can never be original until you follow someone else’s idea.  Perhaps that is what boring people need — to be told that they are mediocre — sort of a tough love to help yahoos to move out of their dull, unimaginative life.

“What the f*ck is neilochka ranting about now?” you might ask.  “This post is terrible.”

I’ll tell you.

I read that passage about conformity and being remarkable several times, and it just wasn’t speaking to me.  And it was bothering me that this popular, inspirational author was causing me to draw a blank.

And then it occurred to me.  He wasn’t writing his blog for me.  This blog was geared for those who considered themselves stuck in the middle, trying to move to another, higher rung in the world.   The vision presented in this scenario was not my own.  His was a two step world of mediocre and remarkable.   Who would want to live in such a world?  Wouldn’t all the remarkable people feel lonely living in a world where 95% of their co-inhabitants are mediocre?  Who cares about “world domination” if you rule over a bunch of morons?

My world view would be more like this — a step ladder with three rungs.

Let’s keep “Remarkable” at the top rung.  Clearly there are some who are born leaders or have a brilliance that makes them exceptional:  Beethoven, George Gershwin, Lou Gehrig, Oprah…”

I wouldn’t be so crude to badmouth the middle rung as “mediocre.”  I would call this rung “normal.”  Hard-working parents who raise happy children have accomplished a wonderful achievement.  It might not get them into People Magazine, but would you really call this “the culture of mediocrity?”  Not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur or artist, so why set up a false hierarchy just to make those who read the book feel superior?

I would place myself on the lowest rung.  I’m having trouble giving it a name, so let’s go with “Visionary/Insecure/Weird.” This category is absent in the two rung remarkable/mediocre world.

I don’t consider myself mediocre at all.  I am fascinating.  I love being with myself, even though I am a kvetch.  However, sometimes I WISH I lived a more normal, traditional life, and my mind just relaxed.  I’m a bit of an oddball.  I live in my head.  I don’t need to free my creativity.  My creativity RULES me.  It will one day bring me to my knees or cause me to a nervous breakdown.  It is this insecurity and lack of confidence that puts me in the third rung.

Now many of you will not want to join me on this bottom rung, thinking it the equivalent of living with the homeless.  But those who are in the bottom rung usually have no choice.  If you are on this third rung, you know it.  And you are not ashamed of it.  You see it as a badge of honor.   You are so creative, that reality doesn’t stop us.   You simply turn the world upside down, so the bottom rung is now at the TOP of the step ladder, and the remarkable ones are on the bottom, living silly lives, stuck in a world without whimsy.

The problem is that you are only remarkable in your own mind.  It is hard to get out there and tell the world.  You are not like those on the first rung, shouting out your own name during sex.

I don’t thrive to be remarkable.  I am already remarkable.  The main difference between me and the guy on the top rung is that I’m insecure and uncomfortable with the ways of the world.  Those on the top rung climb mountains.  Those on the bottom rung dream of the mountains, in Technicolor.  Those in the middle rung, the responsible ones, are essential to both.  They buy the books of those on the top rung and assist those on the bottom rung when they are in debt, in jail, or in rehab.

Those on the bottom rung need help refraining their creativity, molding it — so they can better survive in the real world.

What I — and others like me — need is a self-help book for those on the bottom rung.  We want to embrace our unique, bottom-rung remarkableness that is inherent to our souls, powerful, but flighty, even debilitating at times.

We need a book to be more normal, somewhat closer to the second rung, while at the same time maintaining our uniqueness.  I don’t want to “break the rules.”  I want to learn the rules of how things are done.  How do I make a decent living doing what I’m doing?  Who are the people I should be meeting? How do I juggle relationships and work?  How do I love without falling apart?

I need a little more normal.   Not to climb mountains.   I already climb mountains every day in my head.

Two Incompatible Self-Help Techniques

I’ve been spending some time this weekend trying to think my way out of some life issues.  I feel lucky to be in this blogging community, because so many of you are clearly fucked up as well, that I never feel ashamed about being honest with you about my own foibles, especially when it comes to my relationship with Sophia.

Recently, I have noticed several of you trying to improve your lives through some sort of self-help regimen.   I tend to see two distinct self-help techniques being used, and I’m having difficulty deciding which is the true path, if any.  These techniques both revolve around interpretations and re-interpretations of self — and how we see our own strengths and weaknesses.

Self-Help Technique #1)   I Will Myself to Perfection

This technique spits on  the concept of weakness.  Man was made to improve himself.  Each of us is our own master.  It is up to the individual to rise above the masses of sheep, Ayn Rand style.  You see this attitude in many of the exercise bloggers lately, especially in their hard-nose attitudes toward the overweight.  These individuals hate victim mentality.  Hard work is advocated, focusing on self-improvement.  The overweight are overweight because they are lazy and eat crap.  Those who live under the poverty line could rise about it — if only all they re-interpreted their self-image.  Personal achievement equals  hard work, and those who don’t reach a certain level in success — in romance, work, blogging, etc — didn’t have the right stuff.  The way to success is to turn the body and mind into a well-oiled machine.  All distractions must be eliminated.  Life must be organized, with five year plans, segmented into fifteen minute “progress” periods on the iphone.

This technique is attractive to me.  I am typically hard on myself, blaming my own weak brain for messing things up.  I admire a technique that is a bootcamp of the self, where your inner voice is a Sergeant (or Jillian Michaels) barking directions at you.  If you can’t take the heat, you don’t deserve the goods.  To succeed, I need to “reframe” my mind into a stronger way of thinking, seeing myself as soldier of success.  There is no excuse for not writing three novels a year.  I need to get off Twitter.  Procrastination is for weaklings.  Clearly my marriage is not working.  It is a time-sink.  Stop what isn’t working, and bite the bullet like a man.  The only one I need to please in life — is myself.  My voice is the ONLY voice.  When I quit blogging, I will take it down with me.

Self-Help Technique #2)  I Am Weak and Need Help

This technique grows out of the 12-step programs. Until recently, I knew very little about 12-step programs other than what I saw on TV.  But now that I have a few friends who are making use of these support groups, I thought I would do some research on how they work.   The history of organizations such as AA is fascinating.  Although these programs are not “religious” in dogma, a relationship with a higher being is part of the recovery equation.  This is not a technique where you push yourself to be perfect.  Quite the opposite.  You are acknowledging that you are have a problem which you cannot solve on your own.  You are accepting your weakness, and publicly admit it, going outside of yourself for support.  An addict will always be an addict, even years after his last drink or cigarette, because the weakness is a given, and the individual must always be vigilant.

This technique is attractive to me — even outside the context of a 12-Step Program.  It is a more gentle approach to self-therapy.  The individual can be kinder to oneself in accepting one’s failings.  I didn’t write three novels a year because I just didn’t.  I was weak.  I am never going to change unless I accept this, and look for help.  I will always have a tendency to procrastinate.  Rather than try to eliminate it unsuccessfully, I should accept it, and look for ways to control it, perhaps by sharing stories with others with the same concerns.

Technique #1 — De-focus from others and train your mind and body like an Olympic athlete.  It is up to you to make things happen.

Technique #2 — Stop fooling yourself that you are strong and see yourself for who you really are — weak.  Connect yourself to a higher power and others to help you from falling.

Any of this make sense?

Self-Help Books

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Today, Sophia and I sat in Borders for half the day, reading self-help books. I was determined to find a book that described me and my “problems” in psychological terms. After my two months of therapy, I’m fully convinced I need this help, and I want to understand myself better. I almost feel as if I’ve been blind to parts of my own personality. I am neurotic, but just saying “neurotic” is too vague for me. I want a stronger sense of the problem. I’m envious of you bloggers who have something specific, like ADHD. That is a “sturdy” psychological problem. If I met you for the first time, I could shake your hand and you could look me in the eye and say, “My name is Jack and I have ADHD.” It’s just not the same to answer, “Hi, I’m Neil. I’m neurotic, but I’m not exactly sure what that means or what exactly I’m neurotic about.”

The first book I read at Borders was on procrastination. I certainly procrastinate on my writing, but not with everything. Other times, I am very much on the ball. (Editor’s note: I’d like to see that ball — Sophia) I can’t honestly say that I’m NOT a pure-blooded procrastinator. (Editor’s note: I can.)

I was excited about finding a book on anxiety, especially one that screamed “Millions sold” on the cover. Anxiety is nothing new to me. I HATE making cold calls. I freeze in fear. That is anxiety. In my single days, I could never get enough nerve to talk to women in bars. I was too anxious.

The trouble is that “anxiety” is a term too broad for my taste. I don’t feel anxiety in typical social situations. I love to speak in public. I would have no problem running naked in the woods. I’ve met many who are plenty more anxious than me. Maybe I’m not really “anxious.” (Editor’s note: Yes, you are.)

The book that affected me the most was one about self-esteem. There was much in the book that made sense in the way it related to me– from the way I speak about my own accomplishments to my inability to say “no” to someone — fearing that they wouldn’t like me.

After our visit to Borders, we went to a Bistro-type restaurant for a late brunch. I brought along a 2-1 coupon that I had found in the mail. As some long-time readers of this blog know, giving coupons to waiters is one of these events that makes me ANXIOUS. I need to talk to my therapist about this. I know this makes little sense to you, but it almost feels as if I’m asking the waiter for a favor and imposing on him. I know, it sounds crazy, especially since I always leave a good tip on the full check amount.

As the waiter came over to our table, Sophia nudged me to give him the coupon before we order, as it is stated to do.

“Excuse me, ” I said to the waiter, as I fumbled with the folded coupon. “I have this thing… some sort of a certificate… um… but I’m not even sure if you even take it on weekends…uh?” (Editor’s note: On the coupon, it said, “Use any day.”)

“Oh yeah”, the waiter said, matter-of-factly. “Great. I’ll take it.”

And that was that. Sophia looked at me, laughing at how the episode made me into an incoherent wreck.

I thought to myself, “Think about what you just said to the waiter, and WHY — and you’ll understand YOURSELF a lot more than reading self-help books.”

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month: Make Me Insecure Friday

The Secret

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“Thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s house” spoke God, and a lightening bolt hit the table and ingrained the tenth commandment in stone for eternity. Moses, his hair turned white from being in the presence of God, shook in fear.

“But how will I get the chosen people to follow these commandments, Lord? I am but one small man. And the chosen people are a stiff-necked group of nudniks who are always arguing with one another. Couldn’t you have chosen a group that was more mellow, like the Amish? Surely the Israelites will not believe that I actually chatted with YOU.”

“Don’t worry, Moses. The answer is simple. Change them each $29.95 to learn the “secret” commandments and before you know it, you’ll be on Oprah and they’ll be standing on line to buy The Commandments on DVD.”

Recently, I’ve read a couple of bloggers talking about “The Secret,” some sort of new Age self-help book/video/audiotape/budding industry that was talked about on Oprah. Oprah speaks, people listen.

Now, I should admit that I have not seen this DVD or read the book, so I have very little to say about the content of this material. It might be inspirational. It might make me a changed man. But — the thing that annoys me about this “Secret” is the way it is being marketed. First of all, I was immediately turned off by their flashy, overproduced website. On the website, there is a lot of talk about “secret membership” and your choice of watching the video online for five bucks or buying the DVD for thirty dollars.

To me, the subtext says: inaccessibility. Why use Flash technology? Why do I have to download a special video codec from Vividas just to watch the trailer? And frankly — WHY should I pay for something so astounding? If this Secret really will change the world, shouldn’t this information be shouted out from rooftops everywhere? Shouldn’t it be freely spread throughout the world in order to make it a better place?

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Rhonda Byrne

I’m not against someone making money. But the editor, Rhonda Byrne, former producer of “What’s Cooking” and “The World’s Greatest TV Commercials,” admits that she is just revealing a secret that has already been with us for centuries, albeit only for the elite.

The Secret is released to the world! This ground-breaking feature length movie presentation reveals The Great Secret of the universe. It has been passed throughout the ages, traveling through centuries… to reach you and humankind.

This is The Secret to everything – the secret to unlimited joy, health, money, relationships, love, youth: everything you have ever wanted.

In this astonishing program are ALL the resources you will ever need to understand and live The Secret. For the first time in history, the world’s leading scientists, authors, and philosophers will reveal The Secret that utterly transformed the lives of every person who ever knew it… Plato, Newton, Carnegie, Beethoven, Shakespeare, Einstein.

Now, if this is all true, then HOLY S**T, that is some cool stuff. Someone should be GIVING away this information for free. Don’t worry, Ms. Byrne. You will not starve for all your hard work if you give away this information for free. After everyone has unlimited happiness and money, I’m sure you will be handsomely rewarded. But to make people buy a DVD to learn this amazing secret is simply immoral. It is like Moses charging for the Ten Commandments. It is like Jonas Salk discovering the cure for polio and only sharing it with his friends.

What’s with this selfishness, Ms. Byrne? Shouldn’t this information be offered to poor people for free? What about those without internet access? Or those without DVD players? Shouldn’t the United Nations be in on this?

Of course, I am just taking what you say at FACE VALUE — that this information of the Secret with bring in a “New Era for Humankind.” I would hate to think that all this is just cheesy marketing gimmick used to package the idea of “mind over matter,” a concept that has been around since Philosophy 101 in college.

I also notice that you include Henry Ford on your list of great visionary leaders who knew “The Secret.”

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Henry Ford

He certainly was an innovator, but considering that he was a nasty guy, an anti-Semite, and a Nazi sympathizer, I seriously doubt that “the Secret” alone will make this a better world.

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month: Know Thyself… Very Little

Fearless the Cat

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I fell asleep in the living room last night and had some sort of nightmare. I would tell you what it was about, but I’m trying to be more honest in my writing, and I don’t remember it at all. I rarely remember my dreams.

I climbed upstairs to the bedroom and slid into Sophia’s bed. She was sleeping and mumbled something about me “waking her up.” I lay there in that half-sleep, half-awake state when the mind seems to be at the most volatile and creative. I had some amazing insightful thought about my life, so important that it was worthy of waking Sophia up for a second time.

“You know what my problem is.” I announced. “I think other people are “bigger” — more important than me — and I’m too “small.” I should think of myself as a giant to compensate. Someone fearless. A fearless giant.”

“Huh? A what?” moaned Sophia, groggily.

“…fearless giant.”

“Felix Giant?”

“Fearless Giant!”

“Felix Giant?  I thought it was Felix the Cat.”

“I’m not talking about Felix the Cat.”

“Isn’t Felix the Cat a cartoon?” she asked with her eyes still closed.

“It is.”

“I’ve never seen it. Is it funny?”

“You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it, either. It’s a pretty old cartoon.”

“So, Felix the Cat was a giant?” she slurred.

“Forget Felix the Cat. What I said was “Fear-less Giant.” I want to feel bigger. Not afraid.”

“Oh.”

Sophia rolled over and went back to sleep.

“You want to have sex?” I asked.

“Zzzzzzzz.”

A Year Ago on Citizen of the MonthMy Brilliant Literary Career

Never Let Them See You Sweat

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Thanks to everyone who made such nice comments on my “friendship” post.  I almost deleted the post after I published it, since I thought it was too wimpy – but I’m glad I didn’t.  I’m especially pleased to learn that I got other bloggers to think about the subject, including JJ, Ashbloem, Nicole, and Ascesis.  Even though we all live in different parts of the country – and world – we all have similar experiences in life.

Not all the responses to the post were positive.  One of my film school friends said it was a terrible idea to make myself look “bad” (meaning needy).  He’s a big fan of the maxim, “Never let them see you sweat.”  One of his favorite books is a self-help book by a professional jury-picker who writes about the “secrets” of stacking the jury by reading people’s dress, posture, and mannerisms  The book offers advice on how you can manipulate the world by using your dress and body language.  In my friend’s view, each individual is a private business that needs to be successfully marketed to succeed.  It is essential to show yourself in a positive light and never say anything bad about yourself… including your need for more friends.   The best way to get friends is to become more successful.  Then, friends will be knocking at your door.  Not surprisingly, my friend works in the entertainment industry.  

I understand where my friend is coming from.  The entertainment industry can warp your mind.  Nothing turns my stomach more than having to go to a “Hollywood” party.  Fear and desperation permeate the air, no matter how successful the group.  The reason:

Careers in Hollywood rise and fall faster than Pamela Anderson’s boobs when she’s bouncing on top of Tommy Lee in that sex video. 

The worst possible thing to say at a Hollywood party is “I’m out of work."  Everyone is afraid of catching the disease, like leprosy.   So, everyone (and I mean everyone, including the waiter handing out the cocktail franks) is “in development.”  No one believes this, but as long as no negative energy is released, everyone is relaxed and the party can proceed normally.

Keeping positive in Hollywood is not easy, or cheap.  People try to fight negativity by spending tons of money at the Learning Annex and the Scientology center.  I understand the need for this.  It’s so easy to get down on yourself that you sometimes need an outside source to help you delude yourself.

When I first move to LA, my neighbor was a pretty red-haired actress.  I wanted to ask her out, but I was too shy.  She wasn’t getting the acting jobs she wanted, so she started going to this EST-Forum type group to bolster her self-esteem.  And it seemed to work.  She didn’t get any more work, but her positive attitude went through the roof.  All of a sudden, she “knew” she was going to succeed.  There was no room for doubt.  She stopped talking to her regular friends because they were a “negative influence” who didn’t “believe in her abundant potential.”

While I was glad she was happier, I found her attitude adjustment a little creepy.  I also was concerned about the cost of all these “seminars” she took.  There was a new seminar almost every week, each costing a couple of thousand dollars. After each seminar, she would ask me to attend her “graduation.”  I kept on finding excuses not to attend, but there was a new graduation after each seminar, and I was running out of reasons.  

Finally, I agreed to go to one of her graduations.  I had no interest in this group at all, but I figured if I went, it might help me in my quest to see her naked and – well, you get where my mind was at.   I knew this group was probably cult-like.  Someone even warned me that they would try to “brainwash” me.  But I wasn’t very worried.  While some cults might appeal to me, I’m way too cheap to actually pay thousands of dollars for one.

My neighbor and I went to the group’s headquarters in Westwood.  The minute we got there, they shuffled all the “guests” into another room totally separate from the graduating students.  The door was locked and we never saw them for the rest of the evening.  Some graduation! 

A young guy with a well-trimmed beard stood in front of the guests, waving his finger at all of us.

Bearded Guy:  “You… all of you…are fuck-ups.  Every single one of you… Fuck-ups.  You don’t know shit.  And if you think you know shit, you know even less shit.”

One of the guests giggled.

Bearded Guy:  “What the fuck is wrong with you, fuck-up?

This was so weird that I was actually intrigued, as if I had stepped into a real-life movie about crazy people in California. 

“Finally,” I said to myself, “I’m seeing the real Los Angeles.”

The bearded guy kept on ranting about how fucked we all were.  Two female assistants handed out sign-up sheets where we supposed to write down our addresses and phone numbers. 

My mind wandered to thoughts about my actress friend.   I guess I wasn’t going to see her naked, after all.   It was clear that one of the "graduation requirements” was to drag another clueless victim into this nonsense.  But what bugged me the most was – why me?  Did I really look like such a “lost soul” that she thought I would go for this?

I got up to leave.

Bearded Guy:  “Where are you going?”

Me:  “I’m leaving.”

Bearded Guy:  "You can’t leave until we’re done."

Me:  "I’m really not that interested.  I’m sorry."

Bearded Guy:  "You should be sorry, you no-nothing fuck-up.  You signed up to be at this graduation ceremony."

Me:  "What graduation ceremony?  This… this… is just an excuse to get new clients.  And stop calling me names.  You’re rude… and I know what you’re trying to do.  I took psychology."

Bearded Guy:  “You really are fucked up.  Sit down.”

Some burly bouncer type stood in front of the closed doors.  For the first time since arriving, I got nervous.  My mind raced, trying to figure out what to do next. 

Me:  (to myself)   Should I just sit down and listen?  What could happen in an hour or so?  Or could something happen… I can’t be brainwashed in an hour?  But, wait… maybe I’m being brainwashed already?  Maybe I’ll become like one of those prisoners in the Stanley Milgram experiment I wrote a paper about in college Psych class?

Suddenly, I stopped thinking of my college psych class and reached into school memories that went even further back —  to my sixth grade civics class.  I remembered some speech I gave about the Declaration of Independence when I was chosen as my school’s “Citizen of the Month.” 

I turned and faced the bearded guy as defiantly as Patrick Henry must have stared down the British.

Me:  “This is a free country.  I have rights.  Have you read the Declaration of Independence?  The Constitution?   In 1789, something was written called the Bill of Rights.  Have you heard of it?  In it, it says that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.  There is free speech in this country.  And there is the inalienable right for me to move freely throughout this country.  And if I want to walk out those doors right now, I WILL walk out those doors.”

I marched to the doors.  The bouncer moved aside.  I opened the handles to the door and left.

I never brought up this incident to my actress neighbor.   I never scolded her or blamed her.  I understood that this craziness was important to her.  She needed this boost of confidence to make it in the entertainment business, even if she had to pay thousands of dollars for it.   And several years later, after we lost contact with each other, I did see her in a small speaking role on “Will and Grace.” 

So, maybe my film school friend is right: “Never let them see you sweat.” 

Maybe next time I want to write about Sophia, or my sex life, or my friendships on my blog, I’ll just say, “It’s in development.”

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